The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has established that global warming must be kept below 2°C to avoid catastrophic and irreversible consequences for the planet. The target was endorsed by EU heads of state and government in March 2007 (EURACTIV 13/03/07).
The EU acknowledges that cities, which consume a disproportionate share of natural resources, are key to solving global climate problems. They are uniquely placed to implement effective climate policies as they have the capacity to plan and are in charge of key elements of environmental infrastructure, including transport, water, energy and waste. Moreover, they own a large number of public buildings, where energy-efficiency measures can make a real difference.
Moreover, city councils are the closest to the citizen that public administration gets. They therefore have the best chance of steering consumer behaviour towards less wasteful energy use and raising public awareness of energy efficiency measures.
The world is urbanising at a fast pace. According to the UN, only 29% of its population lived in cities in 1950, but the figure presently stands at around 50% and is predicted to rise to 70% by 2050.
Matthew E. Kahn, a professor at UCLA's Institute of the Environment (University of California, Los Angeles), argues that urbanisation contributes to climate change because city dwellers with larger incomes than the rural population opt for private cars instead of public transport. On the other hand, cities are "hotbeds of innovation", meaning that urban nations are more likely to develop green technologies such as hybrid vehicles, reducing greenhouse gas emissions per dollar of national income, Kahn says.
London taking the lead
Cities have been slow to take action, though, but they are now starting to rise up to their responsibilities. The Greater London Authority announced in early 2005 that it was developing the first climate adaptation strategy for a world city.
"London is already feeling the effects of climate change. Sea-level rise relative to the land is now widely accepted as occurring at 6mm/year at high tide in the London area. A significant proportion of future development will be in East London, which could be increasingly at risk from tidal flooding. Preventative and adaptive measures will therefore be needed, including the construction of appropriate flood defences in new developments," it argued.
Most recently, mayors from over 350 European cities united in a pledge to reduce their CO2 emissions by more than the EU's 20% target (EURACTIV 11/02/09). They plan to achieve this by producing sustainable energy action plans and reporting on progress in order to share best practices.
One of the cornerstones of greener cities is reducing their energy consumption, as buildings represent over 40% of the EU's total energy consumption. The Commission acknowledges in its draft recast Energy Performance of Buildings Directive that buildings are a key matter of competence for local authorities and crucial to meeting climate objectives at the lowest cost to society (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Green Buildings').
The public sector's position as a frontrunner in energy-efficiency standards for buildings is promoted both by the EU and the most environment-conscious cities. If adopted, the EU law would oblige authorities to display energy performance certificates in public buildings in a visible place. The Commission believes extending existing legislation can generate energy savings of 5–6% in the EU by 2020 (EURACTIV 14/11/08).
Many cities have started to explore ways to control energy waste from their buildings. Berlin, for example, has a pioneering programme whereby public retrofitting tenders include a requirement for average CO2 reductions of 26%. So far, 1,400 buildings have been upgraded, saving the city 60,400 tonnes of carbon every year.
Local energy production is another area where cities could make a real contribution to the fight against climate change. A significant amount of the energy generated in large centralised power plants gets lost when transported over long distances, and the most innovative cities are now exploring ways of producing energy where it is consumed.
Since the endorsement of new EU renewables leglislation in December 2008, which set down rules for the bloc to reach a 20% share of renewable energies by 2020, 'microgeneration' has become a serious option (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Microgeneration').
Microgeneration refers to an array of small and medium-sized generators of electricity, including solar, wind, hydro, biomass and waste. Combined heat and power (CHP) or cogeneration facilities, which feed the heat produced during electricity generation either directly into homes or into a local district heat and power network, are also included.
The technology would practically allow buildings to function as small-scale power stations, where solar panels mounted on roofs can produce energy, not only for the buildings themselves but also to feed energy into a local electricity grid.
France is currently preparing new environmental legislation, which would among other things allow individuals to install renewable energy microgeneration devices in their homes (EURACTIV 08/01/09).
London Mayor Boris Johnson, on the other hand, announced a series of measures in November 2008 to make the city greener, including an "unprecedented ramp-up in investment in decentralised energy," which is set to deliver 25% of the city's energy locally by 2025.
Innovative technologies are also being developed to manage waste by turning it into energy. The EU's new framework directive promotes the use of waste as a secondary resource and introduced EU-wide recycling targets (EURACTIV 21/10/08).
Some companies are now developing innovative technologies to produce renewable energy from household waste, which would power cities while reducing their landfill waste and emissions and increasing recycling.
Finnish energy company St1, a major producer of bioethanol, is building a pioneer plant in 2009, using waste from households and shops to produce transport fuel as well as heating and electricity for community needs. In the future, it plans to construct plants that can use industrial packaging and straw as raw material.
In the UK, renewable energy business New Earth Energy and waste management company Biossence are developing facilities in the North West of England to produce energy from municipal and commercial waste.
Gothenburg in Sweden has cut its CO2 emissions from energy consumption by 25% by generating energy from waste. The city carries only a small fraction of total waste to landfills as its integrated waste system collects, sorts and burns rubbish, producing energy for heating and electricity through incineration.
Road traffic in urban areas is the biggest single source of CO2 emissions in the EU. With 4.3 million extra cars taking to Europe's roads each year, CO2 releases from transport could be 40% higher in 2010 than in 1990 (see EURACTIV LinksDossier on 'Urban Transport').
London has been pioneering a congestion charge on vehicles entering Central London during peak hours. According to the authorities, since the introduction of the policy in 2003, 70,000 fewer cars enter the charging zone every day. At the same time, the volume of passengers travelling by bus has risen by 6% during charging hours.
Clean fuels and hybrid technologies for city buses, rubbish collectors and other public vehicles can provide further emission reductions. The EU has agreed on a clean vehicle procurement plan, requiring public authorities to include environmental criteria when acquiring vehicles, including life-cycle costs for fuel consumption, CO2 and other pollutant emissions as of 2010 (EURACTIV 23/10/08).
Pooling procurement capacity is a cost-efficient way of supporting greener transport. Hamburg, for example, is teaming up with other cities to support the development of hydrogen buses (EURACTIV 12/02/09).
If cities are to make progress in combating climate change, sufficient funding will have to be made available.
The European Investment Bank (EIB) is developing a financing facility to help cities improve their energy efficiency and buy cleaner bus fleets. An initial 15 million euro is foreseen to assist cities in developing projects that can deliver the EU's climate objectives for 2020, but actual financing could reach "billions", according to the EIB's Mario Aymerich (EURACTIV 12/02/08).
Last year, the EIB lent more than €10 billion to the energy sector, with more than 20% going to renewable energy projects. An additional 2.6 billion euro was granted to urban public transport systems.
This planned investment will go some way towards providing funding for green projects in cities. The Commission originally envisaged earmarking €500 million for smart energy cities in the EU's economic recovery plan, but the plan was dropped amid fears that the plan did not propose enough funding for energy projects and the distribution of funds to multiple actors would have taken too long (EURACTIV 11/02/09).
Some MEPs argued that in the current financial climate, facilitating access to cheap loans would be the best means of delivering funds to the projects that EU cities have in the pipeline, which will require billions of euro.
A workshop gathering mayors and high-level policitians in October 2008 concluded that an integrated approach linking member states, cities, policy development and access to financial instruments was the way to ensure that climate change could be addressed effectively. The participants stressed that cities were currently left out of EU decision-making processes, exacerbating the problem of finding suitable funding.